Culture eats strategy for breakfast

Guest editorial
By Cyndi Gave, President, The Metiss Group

This article was published in the July 2018 edition of NTEA News.

Cyndi Gave, president of The Metiss Group, will present Culture Eats Strategy for Breakfast — What’s Your Culture? on Oct. 16, 2018, at NTEA’s Executive Leadership Summit. Her presentation will outline culture-defining approaches and how demonstrating core values can create a culture that’s more powerful than any strategy in your business plan.

Austrian-born American management consultant, educator and author, Peter Drucker, is credited with coining the phrase: “Culture eats strategy for breakfast.” Successful organizations have been striving to create a winning culture ever since. Eric Schmidt and Jonathan Rosenberg describe a great example of culture in How Google Works.

“One Friday afternoon in May 2002, Larry Page (Google’s co-founder) was playing around on the Google site, typing in search terms and seeing what sort of results and ads he’d get back. He wasn’t happy with what he saw. Larry was horrified that the AdWords engine, which figured out which ads worked best with which queries, was occasionally subjecting our users to useless messages. 

“He printed out the pages containing the results he didn’t like, highlighted the offending ads, posted them on a bulletin board on the wall of the kitchen by the pool table, and wrote THESE ADS SUCK in big letters across the top. Then, he went home.

“By the time Larry arrived Monday morning, the problem was fixed. And the kicker? The team that fixed the problem wasn’t even on the ads team. They had just been in the office that Friday afternoon, seen Larry’s note, and understood that when your mission is to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful, then having ads (which are information) that suck (which isn’t useful) is a problem. So, they fixed it over the weekend.”

Every organization has a culture — whether leadership creates it or not. As Drucker has been professing for almost half a century, leaders must define an intended culture, live it, breathe it, demonstrate it, and champion it, or no strategy will be successful.

For years, business leaders have argued about the importance of culture and whether or not a good one translates to the bottom line. Just think about the example described and whether or not it earned Google more money based on ad effectiveness.

Consider the research done by Jim Collins in Good to Great or Great by Choice; organizations with great cultures significantly outperformed ones with poor cultures and poor leadership.

We also know a company’s culture is a reflection of its leadership, which can now be measured and clarified to determine if the intended culture really exists.

Of course, we’ve all witnessed a time even a fabulous organization with an admirable culture inadvertently hires someone who is a poor fit. It’s like a cancer cell in an otherwise healthy body. It spreads like wildfire. If not addressed immediately, by the time you deal with it, you have to cut out more than the first cell; you need to include the spread of other cancerous cells, even going into the clean margins to make sure you get it all.  

How much does this type of turnover cost? How much do you lose rebuilding the previously infected team? What happens to productivity of the team before you cut out the bad? What about the productivity while you’re rebuilding?

If you’re clear about your core values (the behaviors driving your culture), celebrate demonstration of the right behaviors, fire for violation of core values/culture, and, essentially, do all you can to champion and defend your culture, you’ll have an enormous competitive advantage.

When a culture is strong and you hire a bad fit (despite best efforts), you won’t likely need to fire the person. Your organization will reject the person like the body rejects a bad transplant before it has time to do more damage.

Finally, we know personal relationships are the foundation for trust, and it’s only through trust an organization can achieve high performance. I’d argue all day that, when individuals believe there is a shared culture in their work environment, the speed to trust increases significantly, and the ability to achieve high performance is not only possible, but it is reached with greater speed and at greater heights than previously considered possible.

Leaders who empower their team with a defined, purposeful culture have more successful organizations with more satisfied and inspired employees.

Register to attend Executive Leadership Summit, where you’ll get more insight from Gave and other subject matter experts, at